The Gospel text for this Sunday, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, always deals with the baptism of our Lord. This year the focus is on the Gospel according to Luke, and that perspective is significantly different from the others.
I think it is safe to say that the baptism of Jesus is important in all four accounts of Jesus’ baptism. In the Gospel according to John, the baptism of Jesus is barely mentioned, but it is the same with many other things of Jesus in that account. I think it is significant that the WITNESS of John is emphasized in that account: ‘And John bore witness: I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit [John 1:32-33].”’ Many important things are clearly emphasized in the three similar accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and these important things are emphasized in a slightly different way in the Gospel according to John.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus’ baptism is of course mentioned, but this is the only account where the baptism of others is prominent and mentioned right before the baptism of Jesus. And it is not just a few people who are being baptized. It is interesting how the writer relates the event.
‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased [Luke 3:21-22].”’
Did you catch the ‘all’? Do you remember where you heard that recently? The angel said to the shepherds, ‘…I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people [Luke 2:10b].’ Simeon blessed God and said, ‘…my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…[Luke 2:30-31].’
It is nice that this gospel writer gently leads us away from asking historical questions about Jesus to some practical issues about this so-called ‘Savior’. Jesus did something significant that was connected to ALL people. That includes you.
So, it sounds to me like we again see Jesus in the text to be like the obedient ox. He is doing his job; he is leading the way. All the people were baptized; Jesus was baptized; something special happens to him…. And I hope you would want to know how that story ends.
This is an unusual Sunday. This year Epiphany falls on a Sunday, and so the Gospel text for this Sunday is the text from Matthew 2[:1-12]. I could write for a long time regarding the structure of the Gospel according to Matthew, but that would be a bit distracting from the text.
The text itself is a bit distracting when it brings up the subject of ‘magi’. I think that the ESV has a good translation when the writer brings up the word. Right before it, the text says, ‘behold’; in other words, ‘pay attention’, ‘something important is happening here’, ‘something very different is happening here’.
It took me a while to get used to the possible definition of ‘magi’ as ‘magician’. It is not too hard phonetically—just one more syllable is added. But it constitutes a different subsection in the dictionary. Here is the definition of magi as it is used in this gospel account: ‘a wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other occult arts [BDAG, p. 608].’
In that definition, the word ‘occult’ may be the hardest word to accept. At first it seemed a bit difficult for me to see someone who is an expert in the occult arts coming to Jesus and worshiping him. But people change, and some people have changed in some very significant ways.
Looking at the occurrences of the Greek word ‘worship’ within this gospel account are also a good reminder of the wide range of people that ended up coming to Jesus and worshiping him. After the magi, the next one is a leper (8:2). Then there is a ruler of the synagogue (9:18), and then his disciples worship him—finally (14:33)! Then a Canaanite woman worships him (15:25), and then the mother of the sons of Zebedee does the same (20:20). Then, after Jesus’ resurrection, the women first worship him (28:9), and then his disciples (28:17). It seems like these occurrences were deliberately laid out in pairs.
It is certainly good to see a wide variety of people in the text worshiping Jesus. That happens every Sunday; it is just that we do not realize it.